A Veteran Recruiter’s Take on Recruiting Veterans

July 31, 2013

Darren Sherrard is a veteran recruiter in not one, but three ways:

  1. He is a veteran, having served his country for 20 years in the US Army;
  2. He is a recruiting veteran, having spent 23 years in talent acquisition,  10 of them on the civilian side; and
  3. He is a recruiter of veterans, one who champions the role of fellow armed forces veterans in the workplace in his role hiring for the Veterans Health Administration at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I recently sat down with Darren to better understand the issues, challenges and opportunities that relate to hiring military talent back into the civilian workforce.

Darren Sherrard

What should every US corporate recruiter know about the veteran population?

You cannot go wrong in hiring a veteran. The veteran population is growing in education levels: most are either college-educated or have access to college, and a high percentage of them finish high school.

Also, they tend to have great experience in leadership and teamwork. In fact, the reason the Veterans Health Administration likes to hire them so much is that we know we’re hiring leaders. In the healthcare industry our challenge is not only finding skilled professionals, but also leaders who want to grow in an organization and take on responsibility for others. For us, veterans usually fit that bill.

What are the top challenges that veterans face in finding career opportunities after they’ve served?

While they’re often very intelligent, veterans haven’t always placed great emphasis on education. Our organization provides them with mentors and coaches. We connect them with employers and help them work on essential job-seeking skills – interviewing techniques, understanding the laws, building their presence on LinkedIn.

How should veterans take advantage of LinkedIn?

The networking aspect is key. I’m personally active on LinkedIn and I share many of the opportunities I hear about with my connections. I tell veterans that they need to be resourceful and telegraph through their LinkedIn profile what they’re good at, what they can do. Don’t make the employer guess.

What should corporations do to engage the veteran population? Which companies are doing a superior job?

The biggest thing is to invest time in them. Corporations do a fairly good job of identifying schools that are a good fit for them. They should be doing something similar with veterans. Companies like AT&T and the Home Depot are very active on LinkedIn, reaching out to veterans and inviting them to career events.


Also, think about how to transition them back in. I went straight into the military from high school, stayed 20 years and was pushing 40 by the time I had my first civilian interview. I succeeded with the help of a mentor and peers. If you can put a specialist in place who understands the mentoring needed in order to prepare a military candidate, you’ll create a win-win.

Your own distinguished career in the army included 13 years as First sergeant/trainer. You trained over 400 recruiters in that time, and drove some great results. What are the secrets to your success that you think corporate recruiters could learn from?

First, whatever stage you’re at in your recruiting career, make sure you keep learning and growing. Sometimes when you’re successful, you get comfortable with the technologies that enabled your success. But you have to keep evolving with the technology. Today’s recruiting is as much about networking and social interaction as it’s ever been.

Second, plan your work and work your plan. If you don’t know what you need to do today, you’re definitely not going to do it. To ward off procrastination, work the plan. It’s all about attitude and goals. If you set the goals, you tend to make them, and that allows you to move on to the next thing.

Third, a scared man goes hungry. If you’re scared to kill a deer, you won’t eat. Being bold and assertive in reaching out and networking can be uncomfortable (whether done personally or electronically). But you need to work through that discomfort to get the job done.

Fourth, remember that time is not a measurement of success. Find the balance to avoid burnout. I’ve never been impressed with someone who works 12 hour days. I’d much rather be someone who gets it done by 2pm and spends time with family.

In closing, what’s the one thing you’d like readers to take away from this interview?

For corporate recruiters: by investing in veterans, you’ll make a great investment in your company.

For veterans: visit www.VAcareers.va.gov and reach out. We are committed to helping you.

Interested in recruiting military veterans? We’ll go deeper on the topic at this year’s Talent Connect Las Vegas during a special session on ‘Why Military Recruitment Matters’, featuring leaders from Macy’s and Cintas. For more reasons to attend the biggest recruiting event of the year, visit the Talent Connect Vegas website.